- If you don’t consider the foreign horses trying dirt for the first time in the Classic to be a threat, the BC Classic seems pretty straightforward, and I agree with the oddsmaker’s assessment that this is a three horse race. I think that Saint Liam is the best of the three, and though I’m not thrilled with him drawing the 13 post, perhaps it will, along with the notion that's out there that he can’t get a mile and a quarter, will lead to him going off at a very square price at which I’d be more than willing to bet he can overcome both obstacles.
Paul Moran of Newsday recalls the events of 30 years ago that led to the predicament faced by Saint Liam as well as the Australian invader Starcraft.
Thirty years ago, in an emotional if misguided knee-jerk reaction to the death of the great filly Ruffian, who was euthanized after breaking a leg in a match race with Foolish Pleasure, New York Racing Association officials shortened the chute that until then was used for 10-furlong races on the main track. Those, like all other races at Belmont shorter than 12 furlongs, were run around one turn. The long, straight run, they decided, contributed to Ruffian's breakdown.Todd Pletcher told the Newark Star-Ledger: "It's tough......You basically start out going the wrong way. You are heading toward the outside rail. If this was track and field, they would stagger the start. You have to run a lot farther than the other horses in the race.” And Saint Liam's rider Jerry Bailey said "It makes for a very unfair race.."
Since then, 10-furlong main-track races at Belmont are few and seldom involve 14 horses. At this distance, the starting gate is positioned on the clubhouse turn, an awkward configuration that compromises horses who have drawn outside posts.
Dutrow downplayed the post, saying that Saint Liam doesn’t like horses outside of him, so better that than the inside, which is Rock Hard Ten’s plight, breaking from the rail. The outside posts have actually done pretty well at Belmont in the Classic – Tiznow and Cigar broke from the ten post, and Unbridled from the 14, though he broke slow and came from last. Saint Liam is going to have cover some extra ground, and get the mile and a quarter too.
And we don’t know that he can get the distance; but I don’t think that we know that he can’t either. We’ve all read many times how Saint Liam failed in his only try, the Santa Anita Handicap last March, won by Rock Hard Ten. Was it really the distance that got him beat? I went back to the accounts of the race and recalled that he was done before they even got into the turn. His ex-rider Edgar Prado was quoted as saying "I was done on the backstretch. He was lugging in and that's not him.....He wasn't comfortable. When he's right, he's push-button. He wasn't like that." So this didn’t seem to be a case of a horse hanging in the final furlong at a distance slightly beyond his capabilities. Perhaps the explanation was instead the mere 30 days since his previous race, the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, in which he ran a huge race beating Roses in May, the favorite in the race. In a pre-race interview, Dutrow cited exactly that as his main worry.
A similar short layoff had me a bit concerned before the Woodward, having come just over a month after his grueling second to Commentator in the Whitney, but it turned out to be not only a win, but the easiest kind of prep as well. Now I get the feeling that Dutrow has his well-publicized foot problems under control, and that the horse is primed for a big race, perhaps the best of his career. He’s very well rested, fit, and looked fantastic on the track Monday. His two races at Belmont have been awesome – his second to Ghostzapper and the ridiculously easy Woodward win last month. With his two worthy opponents sure to take well-deserved money, plus the questions about the post and distance, and the last race of the day effect of bettors seeking out longshots to get even for the day, who knows, perhaps he’ll be even higher than his morning line of 3-1, and that would make him a value play to me.